The first day of practice at the Circuit of The Americas was summed up with eloquent brevity by the headline of the press release issued by the RW Racing GP Moto3 team of Jasper Iwema and Jakub Kornfeil: “No grip in Texas.” Despite the awesome facility, a fascinating and difficult track, and clear blue Texan skies, the times set by all three Grand Prix classes in Austin were a very long way off what had been expected, as the riders struggled to find any grip anywhere.
Why was the grip so low? The heavy rains from the previous day didn’t help, washing any rubber that was on the track away. Not that there was much, on a track that has seen very little bike use in its short existence so far.
Then there was the cool temperatures, with thermostats showing just 13°C/55°F in the morning, and a strong wind blowing away any heat the sun managed to get into the tarmac. “Like riding on ice,” was the common consensus in the morning, with times some five and a half seconds off that set by Marc Marquez at the previous test back in mid March, at which conditions were far from ideal.
Three free practice sessions in the morning, a little less wind and a full day of sun worked wonders in the afternoon, with all three classes taking big chunks of time off their lap times from the morning. By the time the day had ended, all three classes were some three seconds or more faster than they started off. Tomorrow, most riders said, should be even better now there’s more rubber on the track. Warmer temperatures should help too, as will the wind dropping off.
“I thought Laguna Seca was a tough track to learn, and then I came here.” Bradley Smith’s verdict on the Circuit of the Americas at Austin, Texas, after six laps on the scooter around the track.
Smith’s words sum up the general feeling about the newest addition to the MotoGP calendar, mind-boggling sequence of decreasing and increasing radius turns, with blind entrances, complex combinations and a few hard-braking hairpins with tough entrance points.
Even the long back straight undulates, the huge, slightly bowed, 1200 meter length of tarmac rising and falling, leaving you wondering where you are along it.
The setting is beautiful, in the rolling low hills to the east of Austin, just beyond the airport, and the facilities are quite simply overwhelming: modern, well-equipped, brightly lit, attractively designed. Indeed, both the factory and Tech 3 Yamaha teams are delighted with the facility: after a battery fire at 1am, it was only the circuit’s outstanding sprinkler system and alert response by the fire service which prevented the fire spreading out of control, destroying maybe eight or twelve MotoGP machines, and causing upwards of $50 million of damage.
Asphalt & Rubber is coming to you from the Grand Prix of the Americas this week, and things are already off to an interesting start. With a fire breaking out in the Monster Yamaha Tech 3 garage during the night, the gear for the satellite Yamaha squad was flooded by the Circuit of the America’s fire suppression system, which also affected the garages for Yamaha Racing, LCR Honda, and Cardion AB.
Yamaha Racing Boss Lin Jarvis explained that while the small fire was quickly put out by COTA’s sprinklers, the team lost one of two servers and several computers to the blaze before it was extinguished. It is not anticipated that the fire will have any affect on Sunday’s race, though it could pose a problem for the teams, since they have a quick turnaround for the Jerez round.
Currently, the cause of the fire is presumed to be the lithium battery to Monster Yamaha Tech 3′s electric starter for the GP motorcycles, making this incident another eyebrow raising episode in the handling of high-tech battery packs, which have different tolerances and operating procedures than conventional battery pack types.
While certainly a setback to the start of the race weekend, the teams involved dodged a serious bullet by having the fire occur while MotoGP is at COTA, since the Texan track has a sophisticated fire prevention system in place.
UPDATE: Dani Pedrosa’s and Marc Marquez’s on-board laps have been added to this post.
Ask and yee shall receive, here is some more movie magic from HRC’s private test at the Circuit of the Americas. For this go-around, we feature LCR Honda’s Stefan Bradl, as he takes the factory-spec Honda RC213V for a quick lap around the new Texan GP circuit.
Honestly, I was all set to drop some mega-hyperbole on the whole situation, and maybe even get a few digs in about MotoGP’s media policies along the way, but I am too depressed at the moment to make that happen.
You see, having just ridden COTA only a couple weeks ago, I was fairly pleased with my lap times, especially after having only spent an hour on the circuit. Now, I wasn’t the fastest guy out there by any stretch, but my times were dropping with each lap and session, and I certainly wasn’t the slowest at the end of the Ducati 1199 Panigale R bike launch, so I call that a win for a Thursday afternoon.
But no, Mr. Bradl had to go and show me up. Close to 15 seconds quicker on his out-lap than my best hot-lap, I guess we see why he races motorcycles for a living, while I blog from my mother’s basement, wearing nothing but a bathrobe and bunny-shaped slippers. Le sigh.
Oh HRC, how we begin to love thee. I think I am belaboring the point now, but someone at Honda’s MotoGP team has really latched onto this whole online marketing thing, and I like it. With a plethora of videos and interviews building up to this weekend’s season-opening round at Qatar, HRC is really promoting its factory-backed riders: Dani Pedrosa, Marc Marquez, and Stefan Bradl.
Though pitched as a season preview video, the short clip after the jump is really more like four minutes of MotoGP porn, set on location at the Circuit of the Americas race course outside Austin, Texas. Complete with slow-motion cameras and what looks like a helicopter drone camera (I wonder where they got that idea), if you don’t come away pumped for this weekend’s race, then you should consult your physician.
Just remember though, the only reason this video exists is because HRC paid for a private test week at COTA, and was thus free of Dorna’s media restrictions. Had this been an official MotoGP test, video like this would have never been produced (or worse, thrown behind the MotoGP.com paywall). Makes you wonder, huh?
For just a simple three-day test at the Circuit of the Americas, it is astounding how much marketing material that has poured out from the camps that surround the Honda and Yamaha factory MotoGP race teams. A true testament to the notion that if Dorna loosened its tight grip on recording video at MotoGP events, it could greatly benefit the sponsors, and thus the teams, and thus the riders of the sport.
Take our latest example with an Alpinestars’s “Ask Me Something” video installment that features HRC rider Dani Pedrosa. A simple four-minute promotional clip shot atop the observation tower at the Circuit of the Americas, Pedrosa gets some much needed fan interaction (and humanization), and Alpinestars has a cool promotional video to help justify the millions of dollars its spends in MotoGP each season.
If this had been an “official” test, where Dorna’s media bosses could impose its draconian rules about video, this short segment for one of the paddock’s greatest sponsors would never have occurred (or worse, Alpinestars would have had to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get permission to film its sponsored rider).
But instead since the COTA test was a “private” test, we get a glimpse into how the MotoGP paddock would function if it was a well-oiled media machine. We have never seen so much marketing material made for the US market come from MotoGP before now. It makes you wonder about something, doesn’t it?